Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull & Paul Brewer

Krull, Kathleen and Paul Brewer. c. 2010. Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President and the Country! Ill. by Stacy Innerst. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-206639-0.

Plot Summary:
Lincoln Tells a Joke is a biographical tale of the United State’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. The story starts off with Lincoln in his early years as a boy and how reading and the power of words were part of his life early on. The story continues through life events like the passing of his mother and sister on to running for Illinois state legislature and becoming a lawyer. As the story unfolds and we see the present through public office, marriage, and presidency, the reader sees how Lincoln’s love of words and humor helped him through tough times all the way up until the last night of his life.

Critical Analysis:
Lincoln Tells a Joke is a short, simple and enjoyable story written by well-known nonfiction writers, Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer. Krull and Brewer have written other biographies, and show enthusiasm for nonfiction, humor, and children’s stories. The authors present a side of Lincoln that many people may not know. The story is presented in chronological order starting with the beginning of his life first in Kentucky and then Indiana all the way until his death at age fifty-six. Throughout the book, the authors intertwine an attractive, inviting, and funny tale with well-known facts about President Lincoln. Though the story is informative, it is not an overload of information, and therefore is not overwhelming to young readers.

The sources used for this text are cited properly and include a note from the authors about the origin of some sources. One of the best things about this book is  its use of quotes throughout the story. In the back of the book, the authors mention that some quotes come from famous speeches and others from eyewitness accounts. A works cited for all sources can be found in the back of the book.

Illustrator, Stacy Innerst uses appealing illustrations to complement the text. The pictures flow with the text and help execute the story effectively. Lincoln Tells a Joke is not only a great children’s book, but sure to be a favorite of nonfiction lovers of all ages.

If my critical analysis didn’t say it already, this is a great book. I loved this book and plan to use it with my students around President’s Day. Not only is this story historically accurate, but it is all the more appealing since it provides potentially unknown facts to the reader. I mean, I was not aware that Lincoln wrote nonsense poetry. How cool is that? I plan to acquire as many Kathleen Krull books as I can for my library.

Awards and Review Excerpts:
2004 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award
Nomination for a Cybil’s award in 2010.
Smithsonian’s 2010 Notable Books for Children

“Children will be drawn in by the straightforward prose, and librarians will enjoy sharing the book aloud. Innerst’s colorful and unconventional acrylic illustrations cover the entire page and are the perfect complement to both the text and the subject matter, making this a standout biography. Pair it with Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora’s George Washington’s Teeth (Farrar, 2003) for a unique look at two of our most famous leaders.”–School Library Journal, starred review

“Readers will smile, too, at this lighthearted look at Lincoln and the many droll quotations attributed to him.”–Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Laughter is not only good medicine. It can also be a political tool, human motivator, and saving grace, as the authors show in this upbeat overview of Lincoln’s life.”–Booklist

“Innerst’s gorgeous, textured paintings, many of them caricatures, are varied and inventive: When Lincoln’s great height is described in the text, his head and feet are cropped off the page. It’s a quirkily specific biography, but, as with Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora’s wonderful George Washington’s Teeth, illustrated by Brock Cole (2003), it reveals the human side of an American icon in an unusual, lively and thought-provoking way.”—Kirkus

This book would be perfect to be used in an elementary history class with a large emphasis on America’s history. In Texas’s American History is in 5th grade.

*Other books written (or co-authored) by Kathleen Krull:
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. ISBN 0152014373.
Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought). ISBN 0152008071.
Lives of the Pirates. ISBN 0152059083.

*Other presidential biographies for kids:
Edwards, Roberta. Who Is Barack Obama? ISBN 0448453304.
Edwards, Roberta. Who was George Washington? ISBN 0448448920
Pascal, Janet. Who was Abraham Lincoln? ISBN 0448448866.


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